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The Law of the Jungle

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"People think that the law of the jungle is just selfish brutality. People haven't read the poem."

- Pahanin (Cold Mantis Chest Piece)

 

Shin Malphor hasn’t seen another Guardian in probably a week. A week sounds about right anyway.

He hadn’t really been keeping track, so sue him. He’s retired damnit. He can disappear off into the wilderness if he wants to. Which is exactly what he did. He turned over his gun and mission and his life's purpose to the next promising generation. Without anything better to do at the time, he'd gone back to his roots. Literally and figuratively. Now he was headed back to the City. With the Dawning kicking off tonight, he figured maybe, just maybe, he should put in some time there. Wouldn’t do to let Drifter get too comfortable in his absence after all.

He’s about a mile out from the City, the Traveler and walls in sight when he stumbles on some one unexpected.

Another Guardian.

Someone new by the look of him. Old, out of date, basic gear, dented armor. Can’t have been revived long to not have upgraded by now.

The kid doesn’t see him, because Shin knows how to move without being seen. Especially here. He’s the most comfortable in the forest and mountains of Earth. And the Kid's preoccupied besides. He's sitting on a mound of boulders, with a clear view of the City, watching the Dawning fireworks. He’s not making any move to head toward the City though. The kid looks...he looks...Shin frowns to himself, makes a snap decision. It’s not like he has anything to fear from a Kinder anyway.

“Hey Kid.” The Kinder starts, scrambling to his feet, putting the boulders between him and Shin. Skittish, more then skittish actually. Scared. Of him.

Which, okay.

Shin’s used to guardians being afraid of him. That was the whole point of everything he’s done. But this kid. He shouldn’t know who Shin is to be afraid of him, Shin’s not wearing his Man with The Golden Gun gear. Hell, he doesn’t even have the Last Word anymore anyway. So this fear was a reaction in general to Guardians .

Interesting.

The kid doesn’t look or act like he’s any kind of threat. Now Shin’s curious. What’s been going on that he gets this kind of fearful reaction.

“Whoa there.” He holds his empty hands up, palms out, lets the thick Palamon drawl of his youth coat his words. It tends to put people at ease, no one thinks a country sounding bumpkin can shoot faster then speak. “Don’t mean you no harm. Just passin’ through.” The kid’s still jittery, his fingers twitch but he doesn’t pull his gun and he seems unsure if he should run or not. Shin decides to press a little. “Was headin’ into the City.” He nods toward the impressive firework display. “Yourself?”

“Uh.” The Kid casts about. A little frantic, a little desperate. “I was. I was just watching the fireworks.” He says finally, a tremor, a challenge in his voice. A voice that’s familiar to a degree. It pings recognition in Shin's brain. Shin hadn’t ever really interacted with the man himself, but. Well. It paid to know who the other big players in the solar system were. Or what they sounded like at least. Ghost helpfully brings up a few encoded messages on his HUD. Just to drive the confirmation home even further. Well...that explained a lot.

“Can see that.” Shin says, he lowers his hands slowly when the Kid doesn’t bolt. He's decided to see how this plays out. Kid's a guardian now anyway. What does he even know about his past life? “I hear the view’s better from inside the walls. C’mon. We can walk together.” Eva would be disappointed if she ever found out he left a Kinder by himself out in the wilds, regardless of who it was. (And she had ways of finding out, Shin knew.) The Kid stands dumbfounded at his offer.

“I uh. I like it better out here.” There’s that note of challenge again. He’s a cagey one, this kid. And since he is who Shin thinks he is, then he has good reason to be skittish around other guardians. Guardians are many things, champions at holding grudges is just one of their many talents. Shin has personal experience with that. Being on both sides of a Guardian grudge that is.

“Sure. Sure.” Shin agreed. “How ‘bout some company.” It’s not a question, Shin starts moving slowly toward the boulders before he’s even done talking.

“I’m not.” The Kid starts and stops and starts again. “Don’t you have someplace to be?” Shin snorts, he hops up onto the boulder and pats the empty space next to him.

“Not right now.” Eva will skin him alive if she finds out he left this sad sorry kid all alone, watching the Dawning fireworks like an unwanted pup. And Eva always finds out. “C’mon Kid. I ain’t gonna hurt ya. It’s the Dawning.” Hesitantly, the kid climbs up. Not where Shin had indicated. Smart kid. Wary kid. He takes a perch closer to the edge of the boulder, further from Shin. He’s poised to run at a moment’s notice. Shin’s going to count this as a win either way.

They watch the fireworks in silence. Shin tilts his helmet to the sky, even though he’s not really watching the show.

This kid. He’s not going to last long on his own like this. There’s any number of Hunters out there who’ll gladly kill him as many times as it takes to drown their sorrow and rage.

Shin’s not one of them. Whoever the Kid was in his first life was wiped away with his death. Shin considers his debt paid, his slate clean.

Still Kid won’t last on his own. Subpar armor, subpar weapons. And a good number of guardians who’d run him down easy as a song.

He needs a friend.

What a coincidence then, that Shin is always on the look out for new friends. Ghost agrees with him. For the first time in a long time. A bundle of cloth transmats discreetly into his lap. Perfect.

“Here Kid.” He holds the folded bundle out. The kid’s helmet tilts down to stare at the cloth and then up at him, then down at the cloth. “For you.” Shin elaborates, shaking the bundle at him a little.

Cautiously the kid reaches out, accepts the cloth. He unfolds it slowly. It’s a cloak of course. One of Shin’s nicer ones actually. A hunter needs a cloak and if this Kid wasn’t a hunter, Shin would eat a bullet. The kid looks down at it again, hands twisted in the material.

“I don’t have anything for you.” He says. Goddamnit, the kid’s actually sad about not being able to give him a gift. When was the last time anyone was sad on the behalf of Shin Malphor? Ghost didn’t count, thanks.

“Don’t worry about it.” Shin leaned back on his elbows, pretending to turn his attention back to the sky. “First Dawning right?” The kid nods, shaking out the cloak and wrapping it around his shoulders. “Every Hunter needs a cloak.” Shin says, the same way Jaren had all those years ago, when they’d left the smoldering remains of Palamon behind. Jaren had given him his first cloak too. It’d long since unraveled and fallen apart in the centuries since though. Shin finds himself irrationally hoping the same thing happens to the cloak he just gave the Kid.

A different kind of Legacy.

“Thank you.” The Kid’s voice is quiet. Barely a breath in the air.

“Happy Dawning.” Shin says, for the first time in a long time, he actually means it.

“Happy Dawning.” The kid returns, voice still just a notch above a whisper. He goes back to watching the fireworks and Shin pretends not to notice how the kid toys with the hem of the cloak or snuggles the lower half of his helmet into the folds.

 

“The fireworks are over.” Shin nods slowly, in no hurry to leave.

“So they are.” He agrees. The kid glances at him. He seems confused.

“Why are you.” He cut himself off. Huddled his legs to his chest. Oh Traveler. There was no way Shin could walk away from this Kid. He was reminded too much of who he used to be. Forget Eva, Jaren Ward would find a way to reach from beyond the grave and whap him one upside the head if he walked away. “There’s something wrong with me.” The kid confesses. “Or, I did something wrong. I don’t understand it.” Shin nodded. Made sense, even if the kid didn’t know what he’d done in another lifetime, he was smart enough to pick up that he had .

“The thing about being a Guardian.” Shin stares up at the stars above them. “You get a clean slate. Whatever you did and whoever you did it to, once you die the first time. That all gets washed away.” This is, of course, not true for Shin. But he wasn’t made a Guardian in the usual way.

The Kid though, well. He was .

“No one else seems to believe that.” The kid muttered under his breath. Shin didn’t bother to hide his snicker. He shook his head. An idea sparks up in his mind, he pushes the shape of it toward Jaren’s ghost. (That's what he is even after all this time, Jaren's ghost.) Ghost agrees with it. Sends back a tiny pleased feeling.

“Stick with me.” Shin offered, as though he’d meant to invite the Kid along the entire time. “Guarantee, they fear me more then they hate you. And if they don’t, I’ll remind them why they should.” The Kid picks his head up, he’s surprised. And wary. Good. He’ll need to be a suspicious bastard if he wants to survive.

“Why?” He asks. It’s a simple and loaded question. Why indeed. Why after all these years did Shin have the sudden intense desire to pick up a partner. A baby guardian at that, who came with a metric fuck ton of past life baggage. One who had nothing to do with Yor or the Shadows, but who’s background was just as much a minefield of tragedy as Shin’s own.

Actually, maybe that was why.

“The strength of the Wolf is the pack.” Shin says, instead of a dozen other things. Reciting the words from memory. “The strength of the pack is the Wolf.” He can feel the kid staring a hole in the side of his helmet. “I’ve been alone too long.” He tilts his head toward the Kid. “You’ve been alone too long, too.”

Shin knows what his legacy is: a golden gun in hand.

Jaren’s legacy though.

His third father deserves more then a gun as his legacy. 

When Shin thinks of Jaren Ward, it’s not the Last Word that comes to mind. It’s a thousand different moments shared between them. It’s a thousand words and actions. It’s a cloak shoved into his hands, the warm weight of an arm over his shoulders, the sound of a deep scratchy laugh, a rough voice coaching him through a new skill, a silhouette sitting watch against the night. 

Jaren Ward left Shin a gun, but that’s not the only thing he left him.

Shin thinks of that day a long time ago. When the sun was high in the sky, ash and dust and loss coating his mouth and throat. Death all around him, everyone he knew, everyone who knew him. His life abruptly irrevocably changed without warning or choice. He remembers Jaren’s rough hands pulling him to his feet and pushing him onto the road that would become his life. 

How very different that day is from tonight.

And yet, so similar too.

Shin can’t think of a better legacy to leave his teacher, his mentor, his father. All his fathers. For those who took him in when they didn't have to. And loved him like he was their own.

He considers his options with the kid.

There’s no way he can take him to the tower. From what he heard when he was last there, Ikora Rey ran a bit too hot and Zavala ran a bit too cold. The other guardians would eat him alive, or stand back and let others do so. The Kid needed direction and well, there wasn’t anyone else around but him.

He had three fathers and one mother growing up. And only two of them were blood related. Time he carried on their tradition, time he followed their example.

Shin reached out his hand to a scared, lonely, lost guardian. The Kid considered it and then in a quick movement, grabbed Shin’s hand in a firm shake. Shin grinned under his helmet. Looks like the Drifter would just have to learn to behave without him looking over his shoulder for a while.